In this episode, I explain how hikers can use fitness assessments to judge their trail readiness, as well as share a few of my favourite assessments for hikers.
If used right, assessments can be an incredible way to judge hiking fitness, to determine the effectiveness of your training and to keep you motivated moving forward.
However, for a hiker to use these effectively, they can't just use any old assessment and think it will be relevant to their hiking fitness...
In this episode:
So today we’re talking about fitness assessments for hikers. And most specifically how a hiker can assess their fitness while they are stuck at home. Now if you just write, assessments can be a really incredible way to judge a hiking fitness, to determine the effectiveness of your training and to keep you motivated moving forward. And I highly recommend any hikers who are stuck at home at the moment, who might be months and six months or years away from their goals to go through some of these assessments I’m about to explain today in order to, so to just see if the training they're doing is working. To see if they’re getting better, if they’re getting fitter. And to so to keep them motivated or keep you motivated to keep you training up during this time when you might not be able to hit the trail as much as you can. Or you might not be able to go to the gym. And I really think assessments can be a powerful way of any hiker to use in a number of different situations whether it's for motivation, whether it’s for judging your fitness or whatever. And I highly recommend you go about this. So today I’m gonna be explaining a few bits and pieces around how you can go about creating your own fitness assessments and then also a number of assessments that I often use for hikers which you can do at home to judge your fitness.
So to start with let’s talk about what makes a good assessment. If you’re coming up with your own fitness assessment, what do you need to consider to ensure that they are right for you? Well to start with they need to be specific to you as a hiker. There’s no point in doing just a random fitness test which a personal trainer’s personal mind if it has nothing to do with hiking fitness. A classic example of this is the old beep test which people love to do. Now the beep test, we’re all pretty familiar with from our high school days. Some folks running back and forth over 10 meter track. A beep tells you how quick you need to do it and gets quicker and quicker and quicker. And then there’s basically by the end you can’t keep up with the beeps. They are pretty simple, lots of people do it, lots of trainers love to do it still because it’s simple, it’s easy, it’s cheap. And might be relevant for field athletes though, like people who are doing soccer or touch football or something like that, though there are much better ways going you’re going about it, it might be slightly relevant for them but it’s just not relevant for hikers and trekkers. You know it’s not— you know, hikers are not running to start, hikers are not doing that type of intensity and it’s just not incredibly relevant. So if you’re doing a test for your aerobic fitness for hiking, it needs to be specific to hiking as opposed to just a random fitness test.
Number two, it needs to be easily measurable. Meaning you would need to have numbers on this stuff. You need to be objective and not subjective. Meaning, it’s not great to sort of say, “Hey, I did a run, a five kilometre run and today I felt good.” And then doing it in eight weeks time and you’re like, “Hey, I felt pretty good today.” How do you know if you’ve improved? I don’t know, it might just be, you would’ve had a better sleep or something like that. Alternatively, if you did a five kilometre run and you did it in, I don’t know, half an hour or something like that and then eight weeks time you did a five kilometre run and you did it in twenty five minutes. That’s a measurable improvement and so you need to be choosing assessments which are measurable.
Number three is repeatable. So basically it means, if I did the same assessment here today at home, and then in six months time I did it in the gym, or six months time I did it in another country, can I repeat this assessment? Is it still all gonna be exactly the same and the only thing that’s going to change is my fitness. So, for example a classic one of this is with the step test. So, with the step test you need to be doing the same height of the box each time you do the assessment. And all in all, it doesn’t matter— really matter how high the box is as long as you do the same thing again and again and again. Because if I did a step test on a thirty centimetre box one week, and then eight weeks time I did it on a sixty centimetre box even though it’s gonna be the same distance in total that I probably do, it’s gonna be completely different results. So you need to make something, make sure something is pretty repeatable.
Number four it needs to be simple. You know, there’s no point doing super complex assessments. There’s no point doing movement assessments. We don’t know how to understand them. You know, we’re just doing things as simple as possible, so fitness assessment because you don’t need to have, unless you have a coach standing up next to you or a coach who can help you break things down, you wanna keep them simple. And then finally that will be a low risk of injury. Meaning, you don’t wanna be doing anything stupid, you don’t wanna do anything out of your comfort zone, it needs to be simple and it needs to be relatively nice on the body.
So now we’ve covered over those things. Here are a few different ways you can actually assess your fitness for hiking. And we’re gonna break these up into aerobic assessments, lower body strength assessments, upper body strength assessments and core assessments. So, to start with, aerobic assessments. There are basically three ways you can go about this. Well there’s a million ways to go about this, but three ways generally I would recommend. Number one would be some type of set distance. So you’re gonna say, “Hey, I’m gonna do a five kilometer run.” Or “I’m gonna do the thousand foot step test which we talked about in the podcast, what Jerry talked about in the podcast the other day. This is basically, you set yourself a particular distance which is relatively relative— relatively specific to hiking and you just take how long, you judge how long it would take and you aim to do it as quickly as possible. So each for weeks and you have to repeat it, and you say, “If I’ve gone quicker I’ve gone better.” Alternatively you can do a set time, so you can say, set yourself up in a box, you say, “I’ve got twenty minutes to do as many steps as I can.” And you smash that out as many as you can in the time limit. Or you say, “I’ve got twenty minutes to run and I’m gonna go run as far as I can in twenty minutes.” You know, pretty relevant, pretty easy to measure and that can be pretty, pretty good as well.
Now if you wanna get a little more complicated here you can, so if you wanna be taking (?) in particular energy systems, sometimes you can say, do an assessment where you’re going to step for thirty minutes but you have to keep yourself at a pace where you’re breathing through your nose. And what this does is make sure you’re working on your aerobic energy systems and it limits you to one particular type of intensity and smash that out for forty minutes you get a score and then say, eight weeks time you do it again. You’re still sticking it at nose breathing pace, but because you’re fitter your body can maintain a higher intensity in working with aerobic energy system. You know, it’s pretty relevant to hikers and for trekkers and it might be a little bit too complicated for some but it can be pretty effective. The same thing if you set yourself a heart rate. And you’re gonna say, “I’m gonna step for half an hour at a seventy five percent max heart rate”, do that again for four weeks and hopefully you’ve stepped— done more steps at that seventy five percent heart rate because your body has got fitter, your heart rate is generally lower and you can sustain a higher intensity at the same heart rate.
So those are three ways of going about it with your aerobic assessments. So as a really specific assessment if you haven’t listened to the podcast the other day from Interviewing Joe, a really great assessment a hiker can do here is the thousand foot or three hundred five meter step test which was created by the guys at UpHill Athlete. Basically this involves finding a step which is about three quarters up your chin, you measure the height of that step and work out how many times it will take you to go up that step, it could land at either a thousand feet, three hundred and five meters and you put a pack on your back of either ten to twenty percent of your total body weight and you go out and do required number of steps as quickly as you can. Super relevant for hiking, super repeatable, super easy to do and yet can be a really really effective way of judging aerobic fitness. So I would probably highly recommend you to go about that, anyone can do that at home and it can be really really good.
So next ones, we wanna talk about lower body assessments, lower body strength assessments. Now these are a little bit simpler than aerobic assessments. Here you just wanna choose movements that are relevant for hiking, the muscle groups for hiking and you just wanna judge your strength and endurance. Now saying that hiking is an outrageously strong sport, or what I should say is you don’t need a huge amount of maximum strength here, it’s more endurance. We’re not talking about things like one repetition max, maximum of squats or deadlifts or stuff people might do in a gym. You can do that, in some people it might be interesting to learn but from (?) hikers it’s not relevant, it’s not safe and it’s not practical. Instead you’re just going to choose a few simple exercises which you do as many repetitions as you can. So a few really really simple ones here, single leg calf raise assessment, how many calf raises can you do in each day? Write that down, you can jot down as we go through. And single leg glute bridge assessment. Lying on the floor, fit yoga is on the floor, (?) and close your bum. Push your hips up to the sky. How many of those can you do in a row? Or another one I absolutely love is the single leg rise assessment where you find a chair, a bench or a couch which when you’re sitting down your knees are at about ninety degrees, you put one under across your shoulders, one leg goes in the air, one leg is on the floor and you just go up and down on that one leg all the way up to standing all the way down to the chair as many times as you can. Now it’s an amazing one of judging knee stability but it’s also really relevant for muscles when it comes to hiking. For anyone who’s interested in these assessments I’m gonna put together a little download which you can download in the show notes, you’ll be able to check that out.
Moving on to core assessments, there’s lots and lots of core ones. But really the only one that I would recommend that’s easy to do and it’s practical is just the plank assessment, cause that’s literally holding a plank for as long as you can. Either on your knees or on your toes. Really really simple, you don’t have to get complicated with that. And that’s something you can judge moving forward if your abdominals or your core strength is getting a little bit more, a little bit stronger developing endurance and that’s easy enough to do. For upper body assessments, again upper body is an— super important for hikers. There is some elements of upper body but it’s not outrageously important. So keeping the simple again, push-ups, probably that’s the main one you do, because if you wanted to judge this you just, “How many push-ups can you do in a row?” If you can’t do four push-up on your toes, you’ll be doing either an inclined or wall push-up. So basically the higher hands go on a piece of furniture or on a wall, the easier it is. So if you can’t do a four push-up, you might try doing that over a bench, of a countertop, of a chair with your hands on either any of those. Or if you really can’t do that just putting your hand on the wall and how many times you can do that. Again pretty easy, pretty relevant. The only other one, if you’re really into your backpacking and would be doing a pull-up assessment. How many pull-ups can you do in a row? Alternatively, if you can’t do pull-ups, how many inverted rows you might be able to do. So if there’s for example a bar, which you go underneath the bar and you pull yourself up to the bar as many times as you can horizontally as opposed to vertically with the pull-ups. For most hikers it’s not gonna be super practical but if you are really interested in getting comprehensive, that’s a good one to do.
So they’re sort of a number of assessments any hiker can do at home. It’s all pretty straightforward, all pretty simple, but all of those are super specific for hiking and all super relevant. They’re easy to measure, they’re practical and they’re pretty safe. So I would recommend probably going through all of those while choosing one of the aerobic ones and going through the other ones. Super simple and I would recommend that. Now, when should you be assessing to wrap things up. Basically, I won’t say do this every week, you sometimes and get— way too wrapped up in just testing, testing, testing, testing if you get to actually train. So I would say probably do this every four to six weeks, just to judge your progress moving on and so to keep a track, write it down so you know what’s going on, and that’s really simple enough to do. And if you do end up doing four weeks of training and none of the assessments is going up, then you gotta ask yourself the question, “Look, am I doing the right training?” And if you’re not, then you might have to talk to someone. So those are few ideas for any hikers who are stuck at home, who might be interested in assessing their fitness, who might be interested in ensuring their motivation stays constant throughout and might be interested in just making sure their training is doing the right thing, it’s moving forward. As I said, if anyone is interested in these assessments, I’m gonna put a little downloadable thing in the show notes where you can download it and you can check them all out written up. But if you do have any questions please just let me know, I’m always happy to help. So I hope you got some good ideas from this episode guys. As always, drop me a review, if you could I’d really really appreciate it, it goes a long way for me. But I hope you will have a lovely day and will talk to you very soon. Bye.
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Rowan is a personal trainer who specialises in training for hiking, trekkers and mountaineers for their bucket list adventures.
Summit Strength is a personal training for hiking service created specifically to help hikers have the best chance of a safe, enjoyable and successful adventure.